Let’s Talk Mushing

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This topic contains 97 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Kay Lee Brown 7 years, 3 months ago.

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    Kris Holleran

    I>>> Hi, Our mushing endeavors are improving, but still have a long way to go. I have a few questions to start with and would appreciate any advice you can give. First, Tibbs is now 8 months old, we have allowed him to bikejor 2-3 miles, as we can control the amount of pull on a bike. He recently pulled a sled with Birr for the first time (about 1.5 miles) and was just awesome! But we all know that Chinooks mature slowly, and I am at a loss to figure out how much to limit him. My other question is, how do you get your dogs to pull without interruption if no other teams are around. Birr is a demon if a team is in front or right behind him. However, if pulling with no “competition”, he will start out strong, then lose interest after a few miles (and sometimes less). Any suggestions? Kris


    Karen Hinchy


    I do worry about Sakari zoning out when in lead, similar to how you describe Birr. She is great at the start, and hasn’t ever really tuned out, but occasionally in the middle of a run when we’re alone she just isn’t as sharp. I’ve started to watch her and actually stop the team for a treat before Sakari loses her focus. A quick snack, a minute of down time while I run up and down the line, and we’re off again. It seems to work- and in general it seems Sakari is focusing for longer (it used to be a certain spot in the trail, and/or around the mile and half marker. I’m lucky in that Tikaani in her non-flashy way will run with her line taut until she drops, and that helps push Sakari along. A brief break and re-start may be unorthodox, but seems to do the trick to give Sakari what she needs to collect herself and get reenergized in lead.



    Another idea is to give the dog a target to run towards, like a lake to play in, a field to play in, etc. This may give the dog motivation to run and a reward at the target. Also, I’ve been running Oscar with my dogs for over a year now. At the beginning, he seemed to lose focus half way through the run too. I get Oscar to go back out front to run for several seconds then stop for a break. Another thing I have noticed this year compared to last year is Oscar is maturing and keeping better focus in harness. He will be 4 years old in June. He is doing much better running in harness this year. His focus is longer and he is listening better to my commands.

    I don’t know if this will help but hope it does.


    Kris Holleran

    Thanks for the tips. Will try both, the treat and a target. Birr will be 3 in March, so am hoping some maturity will help as well. Am glad to know I am not the only one who has experienced this problem. Can anyone comment on the difference between an H-back and X-back as far as weight distribution? H-backs fit my guys better, but just from looking it seems that an X-back would distribute the load more evenly. Kris


    There are plenty opinions out there, and these, of course, are just mine, please take them for what they’re worth.

    I don’t run dogs under a year any real distance- I work them in harness, maybe pulling a tire or something, and perhaps hook them up to a scooter for an 1/8th mile with another (tired out) dog, but I’d rather err on the side of caution for their joints and bones. I’m not sure about the rate at which they mature, Parkie is a pretty big boy, so even at 9 months (when he first started learning to pull) he seemed like he was physically able to do the work, and Roo, who’s pretty small, was mentally ready at 7 months. I think all that frustration she felt at being left behind until her birthday made for some good impulse control.

    As far as getting them to pull consistently, that’s the fun part. If you can hook them up with more experienced dogs, that will help the most. It seems that pack mentality kicks in, and no one wants to be seen as the slacker. Of course, that means paying attention to them so if one is starting to fall behind, you can slow them all down, so no one gets dragged. I was having problems when scootering with just Parkie and Roo, he would tend to slack off, which would make her slack off too. I switched them from side by side to single file with her out front, and I have never seen Parkie run so fast. He never wanted to go a head of her, he just couldn’t stand her being out in front of him.

    If you don’t have access to another team, then targets can help. Having someone out ahead, either on a bike, atv or golf cart, to call and encourage them can be good motivation. Once they do start to figure it out, you’ll want to ween them from targets, so they don’t become too dependent.

    As far as harnesses go, I have heard that an H Back harness isolates the pulling power to the front of the dog, which can be good in longer races for being able to help pace them. I agree that the x back harness does distribute better.


    Kris Holleran

    Thanks Dan,

    It seems as though we should really reign in on Tibbs. He will be very disappointed at being left behind and is sure to give us an earful just to drive the point home! :bark Will just have to fit in some more off-lead walks with him.

    One of the bigger issues we have is that we don’t know anybody with experienced dogs to pull with. We have been meeting some more teams and mushers lately, so maybe we will find a team to work with.

    Will stick with the H-backs until I can find some harnesses that fit better. Have not had much luck with custom made ones and the standard sizes just don’t ever seem to fit correctly. I will ask around to see who has had better luck with different vendors. Can you recommend any?

    Thanks again,


    I’ve used Nordkyn and Alpine Outfitter’s harnesses, both of which seem pretty good. Custom fitting a puppy can be difficult, as by the time you get the harness, he’s already bigger… which is another good reason to wait a bit before he’s really working! North East Outfitters has some good harnesses too, including the Modified H back that was designed for distance- http://ne-outfitters.com/ecommerce/category.php?vuid=2

    Sleddogcentral.com has a pretty good listing of various vendors.

    Here’s something you can do with Tibbs in the meantime – [attachment=0:1vf3hbip]p3img1.gif[/attachment:1vf3hbip]
    You can make this with 2 leashes, or get one already put together http://www.blackicedogsledding.com has them- its a great way to teach them directions, and it allows you to apply as much tension as you want. You can make it a game by having Tibbs chase someone while pulling you with this leash. As he gets better with his directions, you can lengthen the part that goes to his collar, and soon you’ll just be hooked into his tug!


    Kris Holleran

    Awesome Dan! Just the kind of response and help I was looking for with this thread. Of course if Tibbs is pulling me it will be more like a meander- our family is notoriously slow. However, learning commands will be a godsend, as we have no experienced team to work with. Thanks for the heads up on vendors. Will look at the modified H-backs. Am not too concerned about distance at the moment, but do want a good fit with the best distribution of load. I am thrilled if we get a clean and uninterrupted 2-3 mile run!

    I currently have a reluctant puller who is much slower than Birr, but very powerful. Was a steady Eddy for a long time, but really disliked the speed and jawing of his half-brother when together in harness. Worked to slow one and speed up the other, but Huck has developed a real aversion to any sort of neckline and lately is very unreliable about pulling. Fine one day, refusals the next. Have no idea what to do, so have benched him to see if a rest and time away will help. Was getting very frustrated, which never helps a relationship. If anybody has ideas about that, would love to hear them.

    Thanks for all your input. I greatly appreciate it!



    Karen Hinchy


    I prefer the x-back and feel it distributes weight better, as Dan mentioned. I actually took my dogs to Nooksack in Maine and had them measured for the custom harnesses. Trying to measure myself gave me such varied results I was nervous using even an average. The harnesses they measured for fit very well. I tried the ManMat distance harnesses, and while I like them on the bike, they slip to the side a lot with the lower gangline- maybe I have them tightened incorrectly, but I just like the X-backs better.

    On Huck- he sounds like Conaway. Only Conaway was never a steady Eddy. 🙂 He is the best chase dog you’ve ever seen- motivated and consistent. But in lead in a front team he islike a naturalist out for a stroll- checking out bushes and creeks and interesting smells. Very frustrating.

    The fix- either he needs to be on a team chasing something (impossible to organize 95% of the time) or I put him in wheel. I put my girls in lead, and Conaway is intensely motivated to not be left behind. He is a strong and steady wheel dog, chasing the girls that are just a few feet ahead of him on the same team. I even hooked him up once in tandem when I only had two dogs – and that worked too. Hooked next to the same dog as co-leaders, nothing. Hooked behind her in single file, and Conaway ran a steady 3 miles.



    I’ve been the same set up silver tree just posted with Esky.
    I want the commands to be really solid before our next season in harness, especially since we’re a one dog team we need to be solid 😆
    We’re in the middle of summer here, so at the moment our excercise is fairly limited. I get out and take Esky for jogs at either 6am or 10pm the only times when it’s cool enough.
    Next year we’re competing against the ‘real’ dogs so I’m keen to see how we go.


    Kris Holleran

    Tried the stop and treats when Birr and/or Henry seemed to lag today. Worked like a charm. 4 miles in one stretch with great performance and then an additional 1+ mile after resting. Tibbs had a baby run and did well, but was very upset with being left behind. Haven’t figured out the “target” yet, but will take the day’s success for the moment. Kris


    Karen Hinchy

    That is great, Kris!



    I have a unique perspective on this “when should we allow the puppy to run” stuff. Kris and I don’t typically communicate through texting or sexting (no snickers, please) – we use the old-school style of “nexting,” where she is actually next to me, talking. She has been in an absolute quandary about letting 7 month-old Tibbs participate in our outings. The topic has dominated our nexting for weeks now, and I’d have to call Kris a flip-flopper – the term is fresh in my mind after primary season in New Hampshire.

    On Sunday, we went to a maze of fire roads near our home for some sledding. The place is a hotbed for mushing, both dry and traditional. This day, Tibbs was on “restriction.” Last week, it was full speed ahead. Flip…flop.

    We arrived at 10 a.m., and the temperature had risen from 3 degrees F to a balmy 10F during our 20-minute drive. The serious mushing people had been there for hours already. Their 16-dog trucks were empty, and we could hear the howl of their chase snowmobiles in the distance. One poor dog was left behind, and he repeatedly whined, “I love you,” just like you’ve probably seen and heard on YouTube. Birr teared up right away – he’s an empathetic sort.

    At this magical, mystical place (FOMBA trails in Auburn, NH), there’s always a thickly accented German couple holding court. I don’t know the full story, yet. They’re always at the trail head, and appear to own many of the dogs and much of the equipment in use – but they never seem to go further than a few feet from their monster truck and trailer. We exchanged friendly waves and a “Good morning” or two as we passed.

    We managed to get the boys (Birr and Henry) hooked to the sled and each other, but immediately hit a snag. Birr becomes insane at the prospect of running, and his enthusiasm is contagious. Henry, a sweet and normally quiet Chinook, copied Birr’s behavior. I was struggling to hold them back so that Kris could slink around and get on the runners. My two hands were no match for two crazed Chinooks in harness, the puppy Tibbs – by now fully engaged in the excitement and threatening to slip from his retraints – the camera bag, the leashes just removed from the Birr and Henry, and the nice new gloves I hoped to wear again.

    I was trying to make a split-second decision about which thing to let loose when the kindly German couple ran up to help. They took hold of Birr and Henry, Kris jumped on the sled, and I fell over backwards – loosing hold of everything but Tibbs. Kris yelled, “Hike!” and they were off in a flash.

    I regained my footing and bearings just in time to see Kris and the boys diappear over a rise in the trail a quarter mile distant.

    “They’re really flying!” exclaimed the German woman.

    “Nice,” added her partner.

    You might be wondering by now just what this has to do with the puppy, Tibbs. Well, he spent most of the next 45 minutes inconsolably pulling on the leash, frantic to join the fun. He had to have put more stress on his hips in that fruitless activity than he would have pulling Kris, thoroughly lost, through the maze of trails. When Kris finally returned, just after the dispatch of a search party, Tibbs was utterly exhausted – and so was I.


    As consolation, we did allow him to take a short jaunt, and he obviously loves to pull.

    I guess next time, we’ll have to put Tibbs in a sling and suspend him from a tree. Stress-less…



    Karen Schiller

    Great story Chester, although I suddenly feel the need for a long nap!


    Kris Holleran

    Birr may have looked a bit slow coming back from his big run. But here he is moments later, escorting Tibbs and Qivi -Absolutely ready for his next run! Kris


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